Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Boxset Binges #3 - Breaking Bad (Season One)

Opening with the sight of a pair of discarded trousers flying in slow motion through the desert air, we quickly cut to Walter (Bryan Cranston) frantically driving his AV slash mobile drug lab through the desert, wearing nothing bar his underwear and a gas mask and from this moment it’s safe to say that this is one series which really knows how to hit the ground running, as these frantic opening moments are soon followed by a quick video confession, before Walter steps out into the road pistol drawn as the approaching sirens grow ever closer, as he looks set to go out in a blaze of glory, before suddenly cutting back to the beginning of his story, for Walter isn’t just another drug dealer, but a downtrodden high school chemistry teacher, who is struggling to pay the bills and subsidising the money he earns teaching, by working a second job at a car wash for his abusive (and wacky eye browed) Russian boss. Still when Walt finds out he is suffering from terminal lung cancer things seem to be only getting worse for him. Still it’s only after going on a ride along with his brother in Law and DEA officer Hank (Dean Norris) as Hank's team raid a local Meth lab, that Walt suddenly realises there might be a way to solve all his problems.
Soon it’s not long before he’s hooked up with his former students turned Meth dealer Jesse (Aaron Paul), using his extensive chemistry knowledge for a slightly less than legal means.

Created by Vince Gilligan, who fans of “The X files” might recognise, especially as was responsible for not only writing some of the more memorable one shoot / monster of the week episodes across the nine seasons the show ran, but for also helping to wrap up both “The Lone Gunmen” and “Millennium” offshoots with their final episodes disguised as X files episodes and it’s nice to see that rather than retread over similar ground on another sci-fi show, that he has instead taken the natural humour of “The X Files” and transferred it into this first attempt at an original project of his own.

Bryan Cranston who plays Walter is probably best known for playing the hen pecked Hal in “Malcom in the Middle” and to an extent it’s a role he reprises here, to great effect as the downtrodden Walter, who after giving up a promising career to teach high school chemistry is just a guy who seriously can’t get a break and although it’s familiar material for Cranston, it’s his gradual slide to the darker side of his personality, were he truly shines and it’s only later in this first season when these darker moments become more frequent, that it become clearer why the shows creator Vince Gilligan lays on Walters trouble so thickly, for it’s discovering that he has cancer that like Lester's midlife crisis in “American Beauty” (1999), that it creates the trigger point needed to induce a radical switch in personality and Cranston truly sells this role, as he more than convincingly switches between mild mannered Walter the science teacher, while verging on becoming a psycho as he Meth cooking alter ego especially in the final couple of episodes, which is only added to by his newly shaved head.

While watching this first season I found the constant urge to draw comparisons between this show and “Six Feet Under” due to both having a streak of pitch black humour throughout, while being set in a profession not exactly known for being the greatest source of humour, though the majority of this humour like “Six Feet Under” comes from both Walter and Jesse trying to muddle their way into the big leagues of the Meth trade, based more on the quality of the Meth that Walters chemical expertise creates, rather than any kind of “Scarface” (1983) style rise through the ranks, especially when they frequently find themselves out of their depth, while towards the end of this first season soon coming to release exactly how much they need each other.

Something which might raise a gripe with some of you, especially for the more detail orientated is the lack of focus on the addictive nature and effects of meth addiction, which in this world see’s it as the casual drug of choice and no doubt could easily have been replaced with the production of Marijuana and with Walter being a Biologist instead of a chemist, but seeing how “Weeds” cornered that market, the other drug choices are limited with Heroin being still far too taboo and Cocaine too predictable, it seem that Meth was pretty much the only workable option remaining. Still the lack of concern which Walter shows in regards to the people he supplies, is something which is strangely over looked, even when Walter is at his most Naive and straight edged, with Walters only real concerns being the money they are making from the product and hiding this secret double life from his wife.

The other main gripe that comes with this series is all to do with the pacing which is only all the more evident when Walt and Jesse don’t really start cooking Meth seriously until the final episode of the seven episode season, with the other six episodes being looking instead at their misguided beginnings and general clashes of personality, until their grand realisation of how much they need each other, but this still amounts to what seems like a lot of running around, for only the smallest amount of progress, which makes it clear that Gilligan is in no hurry to rush this story along, preferring to concentrate on characterisation than spectacle.

Despite a few gripes, this is overly a great first season and definatly worth giving a look, especially if you’re like me and like a healthy dose of black humour in your drama, while Cranston is riveting as Walter and truly sells the role, while by the end of this first season I was already eager to hunt out season 2 and seeing were the series goes next, especially after the strong foundation setup by this first seasons

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